WHEN I first heard the other day that midwives in a National Health Service Trust were being told that “chest-feeding” was preferred wording to “breast-feeding,” I thought this must be a joke, a send-up by a columnist trying (and failing) to be funny.
But no. Brighton and Sussex NHS Trust had indeed given this guidance to midwives, on the grounds, apparently, that the word “breast” might cause offence. Likewise, “breast milk” should henceforth be described as “human milk” instead.
I confess that I was astounded, and still am. Who on earth would be offended and, if some people claimed to be offended, did they constitute such a large proportion of the population that their feelings had to be given precedence over anyone else’s opinion? The concept of “chest-feeding” struck me as anatomically inaccurate, anyway, as though the milk was being extracted by a tube from within the chest cavity.
When I looked into the matter, I found that the pressure for these linguistic changes had come from a transgender campaign group within the NHS. I wondered how big was this campaign group and how many supporters did it have? And before the changes were made, was a representative number of new mothers consulted as to whether or not the word “breast” offended them? Apparently there was no such prior consultation, even though pretty well every other change in society has to be put out to consultation before it can be introduced.
It was assumed, perhaps rightly, that there are people within the trans community who would be offended by the traditional language. But how many are there? When you think about it, only half of the trans community could conceivably give birth anyway. By definition, men who become females (if I am allowed to use such words anymore) cannot give birth because their reproductive parts are male.
The pressure, if there is any pressure, must come from women who choose to become males and want to have children. To do that, of course, they would have to use the remaining female parts of their bodies, but as they want to be seen as males they don’t like words like “breast” being attached to them.
I should stress that I have every sympathy for people who find themselves in a body that doesn’t correspond to the way they feel. This is a genuine human problem, doubtless causing great distress, that for too long has been hidden in society or just laughed at as something freakish and best not talked about.
But in rushing into these changes to appease this tiny minority, the NHS Trust failed to consider the fact that an overwhelming number of traditional mothers would also be offended, perhaps more so, to have their womanly aspects dehumanised in this way. Rather than giving support to the trans community, it has brought them mockery and damaged their cause.
Having researched the subject online, I was even more astounded to find that it isn’t just the terminology of breast-feeding that is coming under fire. The very use of the words “mother” and “father” is also being damned.
The National University of Australia’s Gender Institute Guidebook not only endorses the change to “chest-feeding” but seeks to replace the word “mother” with “gestational parent” and “father” with “non-birthing parent.” Again the purpose is to avoid offending a tiny section of the trans community – if indeed they are offended at all, since they all had mothers and fathers themselves and doubtless still think of them, and probably describe them, as such.
It seems rather shocking to me that the whole concept of motherhood should be brought down to pregnancy and childbirth, as if mothers then became an irrelevance in their children’s future lives. One doesn’t value one’s mother, and send her a loving card on Mothering Sunday, only because she gave birth to us, but because she has often been a vital fixture in our lives. In some circles there seems to be pressure to exclude the word “woman” itself from human discourse because a few people don’t like it.
The numbers matter. In America, where the most detailed research has been done, transgender people are estimated at 1.4 million in an adult population of over 200 million. If the same rate applies to Britain, it would mean that there are about 350,000 transgender people in an adult population of around 50 million. Words like tail, wag and dog come to mind.
This isn’t, of course, to say that the situation of transgender people should be ignored or diminished – far from it – but that their views (if the campaigners really represent their views) should not dominate the language used by the rest of society to describe their closest emotional relationships. All round this so-called civilised world women are still subjected to terrible abuse and inequality, simply because they are women. Dealing with that global challenge is surely a more insistent priority than changing words to avoid offending people who probably aren’t offended at all.
Triumph and disaster
AS I said last week, sporting triumphs can quickly turn into disasters, as England’s cricket team found last week in India. And the rugby team, having been humiliated by Scotland, managed to score 49 points and six tries against Italy without playing well. Wales, Ireland and France will provide a much tougher test for Eddie Jones’s men. I remain one of the very few commentators who think they can do it.
My favourite moment in the second Test was watching the dignified Indian captain, Virat Kohli, when Moeen Ali clean-bowled him for a duck. He stood there affronted, unable to accept that he had been humbled in this way.
I was reminded of a couple of stories about W.G.Grace, who also took offence when anyone had the cheek to get him out. Once, when he was given out lbw, he bellowed angrily: “The crowd have come to see me bat, not to see you umpire.” On another occasion, he missed the ball and a single bail trembled before falling off. Unabashed, Grace turned round, put the bail back on and prepared to face the next ball. “Windy, isn’t it,” he said cheerily to the umpire, who replied: “Aye it is, Dr Grace, but I’m not. You’re out!”
Lockdown has inspired community spirit all over the island and a number of charities have been helping those who are suffering from loss of jobs and income to house and feed their families. Pollenca Care is a new charity that raised its standard in the town’s main square last weekend, offering homemade marmalade in return for donations. Today its stall has switched from marmalade to offering plants in return for donations.
Much of the money it raises goes to Hope Charity, which provides food banks all over the island. It has also given 250 Butano gas bottles to people who need them. It is planning an outreach programme for teenagers, including one dealing with mental health.
It is tapping into second homeowners and expats who love Pollensa and is also receiving generous support from the local Spanish community.